Vardhamana Mahavira (‘Great Hero’), a sage associated with Vardhamana (circa 599-527 BCE), helped establish the nontheistic religion of Jainism in India during the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE. Jainism provides a disciplined path towards liberation in terms of spirituality.
Jain tradition does not consider Mahavir as the founder of the religion. He was the 24 Tirthankara of Jainism to gain the vision from his predecessors and establish it as it stands today. Jains believe that Hinduism’s tenets are ancient, older than their faith, and were handed down from the earlier Tirthankaras to disciples and passed down through the generations.
Early Life and Renunciation
- However, the Jain tradition rejects Vardhamana’s claim as the founder of Jainism and has received a timeless vision just recently among the Tirthankaras.
- Vardhamana was born in 6th century BCE into a royal Jain family in Bihar, had a wealthy upbringing, and at 30, renounced both.
- During his 70 years as a religious ascetic, under a Dhaataki tree, he attained enlightenment and preached his vision on how to live a peaceful life free of suffering.
- Approximately 300 years after Vardhamana’s death, his story first comes into play in the form of Acaranga (3rd-2nd century BCE).
- He was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, who both followed Parsvanatha’s vision of truth. He was born around 599 BCE.
- Vardhamana’s parents died when he was 28, and his elder brother Nandivardhana took over as the king.
- Mahavira spent the next twelve and a half years pursuing a life of severe penance to free himself from his fundamental attachments. To vanquish his basic urges, he practised utter quiet and hard meditation.
Tenets and Teachings
- He continued to live as an ascetic after he was liberated, according to the Digambara school. Despite this, according to the Svetambara, he travelled through the country with eleven disciples, called Ganadharas, which included Gautama Swami, the disciple who wrote down his teachings.
- In Jainism, the origin of the problem is the suffering that comes from repeated rebirths and deaths caused by an accumulation of karmic matter inside the soul. Vardhamana, in contrast to Hinduism and Buddhism, understood karma as matter, as polluting the soul and obscuring its true nature, preventing it from recognising existence itself.
- To be free of this matter, rejection of attachment can assist in perceiving objects and illusions as accurate. A Jain perspective emphasises the attainment of this state through the practice of the Five Vows (described in the Tattvartha Sutra, written in the 2nd–5th century CE), which guide one’s thinking and actions. It allows one to live a morally pure life with no attachment to the short-lived things of this world, freeing one from rebirth and death.
The vows are:
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (chastity or faithfulness to one’s spouse)
- Aparigraha (non-attachment)
An adherent of the five vows can embark on a path of 14 steps leading to liberation by following these vows.
- Step 1: The soul is a slave to passions and ignorance, incapable of self-awareness. Despite knowing that it is suffering, it cannot escape because it is deeply entangled in illusion.
- Following several unsuccessful attempts at steps 2 to 4, step 5 involves taking the five vows and starting to restrain oneself.
- The soul progresses through stages 6-12 by learning to overcome spiritual laziness, gaining self-awareness, and purging harmful karma.
- Step 13 teaches you to detach from the things in life. Detachment is one of the critical teachings; one must even detach his identification with their own body.
- One attains transcendent wisdom (moksha) at step 14, and when one dies, one cannot be reborn. In addition to Vardhamana, several previous Tirthankaras achieved Step 14, but instead of passing on to bliss, they remained on earth to teach others how to achieve liberation.
- To get rid of attachments to sense objects – particularly the attachment to the body – one must realise that individual differences make it difficult to define reality uniformly.
- Depending on how one defines chairs, one might be surprised when others explain a chair differently, such as ‘large, soft, short-legged, with cushions.’
- It might not seem significant when it comes to chairs, but it becomes more significant regarding truth, justice, and God.
- Through identification with one’s body and identification built up through experience, a sense of belonging to one’s body and claiming your acknowledgement of anything binds the spirit firmly to the physical world.
Mahavira was the founder of the religion Jainism. He was born in 599 BCE. He was the 24th Tirthankara and gained vision from his predecessors and established it as it stands today. Spiritual liberation is the primary discipline of Jainism.
The Jains are sole believers of karma. They believe the main problem of suffering arises from the repeated rebirths and deaths caused by an accumulation of karmic matter inside the soul.
A Jain perspective emphasises the attainment of this state through the practice of the five vows (described in the Tattvartha Sutra, written in the 2nd–5th century CE), which guide one’s thinking and actions. It allows one to live a morally pure life with no attachment to the short-lived things of this world, freeing one from rebirth and death.